How to pitch to clients – don’t be rational!

If you run any kind of successful business, you’ll have to pitch and present to clients. Whether a formal PowerPoint demo, or an ‘introductory meeting’, we all get the invitation to ‘come and tell us what you do’.
The trouble is most of us believe that when a client asks us to come and pitch to them, that ‘a pitch’ is what the client really wants. Usually, however, pitching yourself is exactly the wrong thing to do. It might be what the client thinks they want, but it might not be what they really want. This idea is counter-intuitive, but keep reading…
Because I present a lot in public, people often ask me to help them improve their pitches and presentations, so I’ve seen hundreds of pitches, and I see the same mistake again and again. When people put a pitch together they usually end up with a rational, fact-based presentation, focused on themselves, their own business, and their own achievements.
They give out lots of information, usually something like:
‘Here’s our pitch…we’ve been in business since 1994, our leadership team is John, Sue and Jane, we’re brilliant at X, we’ve got these brilliant ideas, we’ve got an amazing client list…’
But think deeply about this – your clients don’t want a rational list of facts, and they certainly don’t want to listen to you just talking about yourself. 

Your clients are not rational, and they don’t want you to be, either!

Your clients don’t even realise this themselves, but by asking you to come and pitch face-to-face, they are openly admitting that they don’t want to make a rational decision. In fact, if they really wanted to make a rational decision, they would do everything they could to keep you out of the room.
If they wanted to make a rational decision, based only on information, they would insist on receiving only information. They would ask only for written submissions, proposals and emails. They would refuse to meet you face-to-face or even hear the tone of your voice. They would insist on cold, dry, data and nothing else.
So, what’s going on when clients invite you in to pitch? Well, even though they don’t know it themselves, your clients are actually saying: ‘We cannot make a decision that’s entirely rational, and we don’t want to. We want to make it partly on how we feel about you. Do we like you? Can we trust you? What would working with with you actually be like? Will you make me look good in front of my peers? Will working with you be an easy experience?’ And so on.

 

Your clients are begging you not to just give them information, but to answer questions like those above.

 

Everything in your pitch should be focused around building trust with the client and increasing their levels of comfort around the idea of working with you. It not only makes for a great pitch, it also helps you to be ‘competitor-proof’, since your competitors have access to all the same information that you have, but they’ll never be able to have your unique style, personality and viewpoint.

 

Here are seven ways to to develop an (irrational!) world-class pitch:

  1. Remind yourself – your clients are not ‘rationals, empty brains’ just waiting for a list of information from you. They’ve already got ideas, fears, worries, hopes and ambitions. Your presence and pitch must speak directly to those.
  2. They already have questions that need answering, around trust, confidence, and what it would feel like to work with you. Your pitch must answer these questions.
  3. In the pitch, your client is begging you not to be rational – they want to see a real human, that they can connect with. Emphasise this part of your pitch. With all my clients, I ask them ‘Which part of your pitch can’t be emailed?’. They always say things like – ‘building trust and confidence, taking clients’ questions, showing humour and personality, distinguishing ourselves from the competition’ etc. Focus on the qualities that go beyond information.
  4. Don’t hide behind PowerPoint – connect with the client
  5. Don’t speak in jargon, or use long words to sound impressive. Stick to simple, straightforward English.
  6. Make sure that your pitch is full of value for the client, rather than just a list of your own wonderful qualities. Keep answering the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question for your client. If your client learns something because of your pitch, or sees their own business in a new light because of your pitch, if you can demonstrate a solution to their problem, or if you surprise them with the depth of your insight, you’re on very, very strong ground.
  7. REHEARSE. It’s simple – the more you rehearse, the better your pitch will be. Every time, without exception. Rehearsal allows you to practise your first contact with the audience. It helps to test the strength and flow of your arguments. It helps you to sense whether your pitch is too long, or too short. You’ll get a good feeling for whether the ending is punchy enough. You can even rehearse taking questions. If you rehearse, you’ll feel, and look more confidence, and that will help build trust in you.
Try these ideas with your next pitch, you’ll be amazed at the difference it can make.
Good luck, and let me know below how you get on. Also, I’d love to know if there’s anything that you use in client pitches that works well.

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